Why GSP-Nate Diaz makes complete sense

On a chilly Montreal night five years ago, in the midst of his long reign as welterweight champion, Georges St-Pierre did not merely defeat Nick Diaz. Much to the delight of a festively raucous hometown crowd at the Bell Center, GSP manhandled the bad-mannered Diaz, smothering him and smashing him.

One wouldn’t think there would be a call for a GSP-Diaz II, but the UFC is reportedly in the process of booking it — with a twist: St-Pierre’s opponent this time would be Nick’s younger brother, Nate Diaz, who has spent nearly all of his career as a lightweight, has struggled mightily against bigger, stronger men, and has not set foot in the Octagon for nearly two years. GSP, meanwhile, is fresh off a historic performance in November in which he captured the middleweight belt.

The bout, targeted for UFC 227 on Aug. 4 in Los Angeles, would be a collision of two of the biggest stars in MMA. But would it be a fair fight?

Perhaps to address that concern, the UFC is adding an X-factor: The fight would be at lightweight, where Nate Diaz has challenged for the title and St-Pierre has never competed. GSP reigned as welterweight champ for five years, stepped away from the sport for four years, then returned last fall to win the middleweight belt, which he’s since vacated. A drop from 185 pounds to 155 in consecutive fights is daunting, but if any fighter has the tunnel-vision discipline and unrelenting determination to pull it off, it’s St-Pierre. And once he steps off the weigh-in scale and rehydrates, GSP would be the bigger man on fight night. He’d be the same fighter whose seamless blend of kickboxing and wrestling rendered Nate Diaz’s older brother a beaten man from start to finish. And yet, let’s not reflexively hate on this matchmaking. If the UFC is utilizing the return of Diaz as an opportunity to send a resounding cha-ching! through the halls of its Las Vegas headquarters, isn’t it a good thing that the promotion has concocted a starry matchup that would not disrupt the hierarchy at the top of either the lightweight or welterweight division?

For Diaz’s first fight since his lucrative two-song dance with Conor McGregor, he was sure to draw a high-profile opponent. So why not GSP, who also lives outside the mix of contenders? Imagine if, in the name of commerce, the UFC had leapfrogged Diaz over worthy title challengers and booked him with, say, 170-pound king Tyron Woodley. It would have been illegitimate matchmaking — and not simply because Woodley has the skill set to rag-doll Diaz into oblivion, because St-Pierre is no less capable of toying with a Raggedy Ann. But while GSP is the greatest welterweight champ in history and in many minds the pound-for-pound GOAT, he does not own the shiny brass-and-leather belt that signifies supremacy in today’s welterweight division. Woodley does. And Diaz, who is 3-4 since 2012, has not earned the right to venture anywhere within reach of that strap.

That the UFC wants to book GSP vs. Diaz tells us a little about how the promotion views Nate’s star power. He fought in the main event of the biggest-selling pay-per-view in UFC history. His name also was in lights atop the marquee for the second-biggest UFC PPV. However both of his bestsellers were co-authored by McGregor, star of the UFC’s fourth- and fifth-biggest-selling PPVs as well. The Irishman has a track record paved in gold, and Diaz has sustained nothing comparable. Prior to the first meeting with McGregor in March 2016, Diaz had never been in the main event of a pay card. There’s no denying Diaz added a pugnacious charisma to the feisty leadups to both McGregor matchups. It’s just unclear how shiny a star Nate is on his own.

On top of that, Diaz has disappeared in a puff of smoke. He has not fought in the nearly two years since Conor II. McGregor has been in the Octagon only once in that time, it’s true, but boy did he make the most of his appearance, beating Eddie Alvarez for the lightweight championship in November 2016. Then the Irishman went chasing the biggest payday in combat sports history, which brought with it the brightest spotlight.

Diaz, meanwhile, has created just one highlight — though maybe we should split that into two words: high light. At a UFC event in February, the bad boy from Stockton, California, was spotted at cageside lighting a joint. It generated quite a buzz among fans on social media, but was it something the fight promotion could build upon?

The UFC did have options with Diaz. There’s the trilogy fight with McGregor, of course, but that Big Event is evergreen and the Irishman’s focus right now — or at least once he’s cleared the legal hurdles driven by last month’s Brooklyn bus attack — is on a massive showdown with Khabib Nurmagomedov. The Dagestani wears the lightweight belt that McGregor had stripped from him for inactivity. That doesn’t sit well with McGregor. So for now Nate-Conor III can stay safely tucked in the matchmaker’s back pocket.

There are other lightweights out there — Alvarez has been stalking Diaz for years, for instance, and Kevin Lee can both fight and talk a good game — but any opponent other than GSP would have needed Diaz to carry the build-up as the A side. The same could be said of St-Pierre in any other matchup — even a title fight. As a former two-division champ, GSP could have been booked for a challenge of Woodley without a lot of legitimate dissent. But after he came out of a four-year retirement last November to take the middleweight championship from Michael Bisping, St-Pierre surrendered the belt 31 days later without a fight. At age 36, GSP appears to be derailed from the title track. He’s looking for big fights. This fight qualifies.

St-Pierre vs. Diaz may not get diehard fight fans salivating for months with rapt anticipation. There’s a good chance the bout won’t even be competitive. And don’t expect it to lead either man anywhere… other than to the bank. But in this new world of MMA in which meritocratic rewards are dwarfed by financial returns, this booking is right on the money.

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